The trials of Diet Prada

The skies turned overcast on November 21, 2018 and a light drizzle fell over the Shanghai World Expo Exhibition and Convention Center as Italian luxury brand Dolce & Gabbana put the finishing touches on an event space twice the size of the Palais. royal of Milan. There were winding benches draped in red, littered with candelabras and flowers for the reception. There was an 80-foot rotating stage, three gilded catwalks, and backdrops decorated with gold Italian-style mirrors, Juliet balconies, and red upholstered sofas with carved legs. The brand’s founders, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, had designed a new collection for the occasion, an all-night fashion extravaganza dubbed “The Great Show”. The production aimed to blend Dolce’s molto Italiano style with Chinese heritage. There was a gold-roofed pagoda in the hall and troops performing traditional lion and dragon dances. The festivities would continue until late into the night. More than 300 models were to parade in front of an audience estimated at 1,500 people.

But the series’ carefully crafted plans had started to fall apart. To promote the event on social media, Dolce & Gabbana had produced videos of a Chinese model struggling to eat Italian food with chopsticks. Off camera, a male voice teased her.

“Let’s use these little stick-shaped things to eat our big margherita pizza,” the narrator said as the model giggled and covered her face.

“It’s still way too big for you, isn’t it?” he said as she fought an oversized cannolo.

When Dolce & Gabbana posted the videos three days before the show, Chinese netizens complained about “outdated visions of China” and racism. On November 19, Jing Daily, a luxury consumer trends website, reported that “Boycott Dolce” had been discussed on Weibo more than 18,000 times.

Halfway around the world in Brooklyn, 33-year-old Tony Liu saw the videos and posted them on Diet Prada, the Instagram account he runs with another fashion industry insider. , Lindsey Schuyler. “Being Asian, there were certain things that immediately triggered me,” he recalls since. Diet Prada legend called the video an “offensive slapstick” and “a tired and false stereotype of a people lacking in sophistication.”

Diet Prada had around a million followers at the time. One of them, Michaela Tranova, then a 24-year-old Londoner who worked in fashion, shared the post and commented in part: “WHAT’S IN REAL FUCK ?!”

That’s when the shit hit the fan. Or more specifically, crappy emojis hit the DMs. Gabbana’s verified personal Instagram account responded. Tranova had never interacted with the designer online or offline, but the two fell into a heated exchange. Tranova received messages about Chinese eating dogs and insulting her intelligence. When Tranova noted that some of Dolce & Gabbana’s social media accounts deleted cannolo’s video, @stefanogabbana said it happened “because my office is stupid like Chinese superiority.” While Dolce & Gabbana initially released a statement that Gabbana, then 55, had been hacked into account, in subsequent court records, lawyers for Gabbana identified the messages as “Mr. Stefano Gabbana.

“And from now on in all the interviews that I will do internationally, I will say that the country of [five poop emojis] is China, ”a post from @stefanogabbana read.

“Chinese mafia ignorant of dirty smells,” read another.

Tranova was outraged. She posted screenshots of the exchanges and tagged multiple media outlets, including Diet Prada. (Gabbana’s attorneys would later say, “Mr. Stefano Gabbana responded to some provocations… using ironic tones, including towards the Chinese people.”) On November 20, the day before the Big Show, Liu posted several captures From Tranova’s inflammatory screen to Diet Prada, and the smoldering controversy escalated into scandal. Models and staff fled the convention center, leaving their handmade clothes in a pile on the floor. Chinese A-listers have issued statements disavowing Dolce & Gabbana. Arriving at Shanghai airport, actor Chen Kun reportedly told fans, “I’m going home,” and boarded a flight back to Beijing. Brand ambassadors Wang Jungkai, a singer, and Dilraba Dilmurat, a movie star, have terminated their contracts. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon Star Zhang Ziyi shared a meme of a cartoon panda force-feeding emoji-shaped poop to two other animals. “You dropped your pile of shit, I’ll give it back to you,” said the panda.

Liu was at home on his couch, vaping and eating ice cream, as he posted everything. He stayed awake until 5 or 6 a.m. to share news, jokes and comments on, as he called it, #DGTheShitShow. When Schuyler woke up Wednesday morning after sleeping for much of the excitement, she saw videos of people setting Dolce & Gabbana merchandise on fire and headlines on Dolce & Gabbana canceling the Big Show. The designers flew to Italy, where they filmed and posted an apology video. Diet Prada archived her posts in an Instagram story titled #DGTheShitShow. Just another day in the age of social media collapses of the rich and powerful. The world has changed.

But Dolce & Gabbana didn’t. Four months later, Liu and Schuyler were informed that the brand planned to sue them both for libel. The lawsuit, finally filed in a civil court in Milan, claims more than $ 665 million in damages, due to the major setbacks the company has faced in the Chinese market, which in 2018 accounted for a third of the revenues of the international luxury industry. This is the first defamation complaint the company has ever brought, according to a representative for the brand. Liu and Schuyler are the only people Dolce & Gabbana is suing for the fallout from the Shanghai fiasco.

With litigation pending for more than two years in Italy’s COVID-delayed legal system, Liu and Schuyler have lived “under this sword of Damocles designed by Dolce & Gabbana,” according to Fordham University law professor and director from Fashion Law Institute Susan Scafidi, who represents the pro bono pair. It’s the kind of legal battle between David and Goliath that usually arouses sympathy: Wealthy owners of a decadent billion dollar famous business sue two freelance bloggers for more money than a court ordered. to Samsung to pay Apple, in 2018, for having copied the iPhone.

But in the years since its # DGTheShit-Show posts, Diet Prada has grown and become so controversial that obvious allies are sometimes reluctant to stand up for Liu and Schuyler. Diet Prada, once a niche phenomenon for and by the talkative fashion class, now has 2.8 million followers and is quite mainstream; Liu calls it “a hub for fashion, pop culture, politics and social justice.” Meanwhile, the fate of the Big Show – the cancellation – has become a mainstream fear, fixation, and flashpoint. Rituals of appeal and response have developed around the kind of speech characteristic of Diet Prada, the appeal on social networks: apologies, denunciations, backlashes, applause, provocative right-wing media tours, explanations of “nuance” and promises to “do better”. Schuyler described his responsibility as “a never-ending process. It’s like anti-racism – it’s not an act with an end goal, it’s an ongoing practice.

The process also placed a target on Diet Prada’s back. As the cycle of outrage on the internet matures, calls increasingly attract meta-calls: accusations of hypocrisy, bias, ignorance, intimidation, and failure to “get the job done.” “. The media outlets scrutinize and draw inspiration from players on social networks, just like readers, who sound on their own platforms. As Diet Prada grew older, Liu and Schuyler found themselves in a bind. On the one hand, there are popular pressures similar to the ones they used to throw stones at the giants (and to gain nearly 3 million followers fluent in the language of internet reaction). On the other side, there are powerful players with deep pockets who use the usual methods of crushing their enemies, including expensive chases. Like the one in Milan, where a judge is now considering a simple but potentially crippling question: What does Diet Prada have to do with the price of D&G in China?

When I started Corresponding with Liu and Schuyler in March, they had faced the Dolce & Gabbana trial for two years but had only spoken publicly about it for a few weeks. They were polite, circumspect, generous with their time, and extremely careful. In recent years, Diet Prada has only given interviews in writing. Although they wrote conversationalally and candidly, including about their personal lives, I got the impression that they insisted on email for control or self-protection. I’m not quite sure, however, because whenever I asked, Liu refused to explain beyond the fact that the emails were a policy “based on advice given to us by industry friends “that, when asked, he also refused to Explain.

The pair launched Diet Prada anonymously in late 2014 to call out allegedly copied fashion designs by posting side-by-side runway photos on Instagram. “Diet Prada” refers to watered-down imitations of Miuccia Prada’s work; the first item juxtaposed a Dior coat designed by Raf Simons with a similar precedent from Prada. (Five years later, Simons became the co-creative director of Prada.) At the time, Liu and Schuyler were in their twenties and working as accessory designers for New York milliner Eugenia Kim. Liu interviewed Schuyler when she applied for a position, which became her first full-time job. Schuyler, now 33, had moved to New York City from northern Florida, where she was born and raised, to pursue fashion. Liu, who is now 36, was born in New York City and raised in the upstate. He returned to the city after studying art and fashion in Chicago.

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